Musings from the South Stand #11: All Systems Go?
The 2020/21 season now has a start date: Saturday 12th September. Signings have begun – including at Doncaster Rovers as of yesterday – and the fixture list will soon follow as the squad begin a protracted pre-season training programme this week in anticipation for finally returning to competitive action.
Although the campaign is getting underway over a month later than usual, it will still end in the usual early May slot, meaning that more games will have to be fit into less time notwithstanding any further breaks in the event of potential Covid-19 outbreaks among players and teams. There is no doubt that a season full of difficulties awaits Darren Moore and his contemporaries that will probably result in the most unusual year of football in our lifetime.
Is now the right time?
The cloud of financial uncertainty has hung over pretty much all clubs in the EFL since the pandemic kicked into gear back in March. The impact on the entire sport is common knowledge, and even powerhouses like Barcelona have been speaking about needing to tighten their belt as a result this week. Clubs in Leagues One and Two generally do not have the capability to run without Match Day revenue so how they will manage with reduced capacity (zero for the first few weeks of the season) and the additional cost of continuous testing remains to be seen.
That said, the Premier League and Championship have proven that getting games played under the current circumstances is possible, even if matches have felt a little soulless and perhaps less eventful than usual, so it stands to reason that the effort to restart the lower leagues should now begin. The plain reality is that if we went much longer without training or playing, Doncaster Rovers may not be able to exist as a going concern and players would surely start to lose their grip on the high fitness levels needed to play professionally.
What can we expect on the field?
Expectations may well have to be tempered as far as playing fortunes are concerned. Rovers ordinarily possess a top half budget in League One but have a small squad at the present time and are unlikely to be able to make any marquee additions with finances so restricted by everything. All teams are in the same boat of course, but some have more revenue streams than others or more financially affluent owners willing to foot bigger shortfalls.
Some teams may well benefit from the sale of key players for big fees, and Rovers aren’t exempt from this if they elect to cash in on talents like Ben Whiteman, although fans will hope it doesn’t come to that. Darren Moore’s willingness to utilise the loan market and his experience developing young players may work in the team’s favour in 2020/21 as these are two routes likely to be used by more and more teams than before as EFL clubs look to get the best value out of less spend.
Time will tell whether or not Rovers can put together a team to compete for promotion, and we should expect quite a few surprises in terms of how the competition plays out on the field once the season gets underway.
When will fans be back in stadiums?
Arguably the biggest question for supporters though is the matter of when we will all be back in the stands cheering on the team. The UK government initially announced a date of October 1st for the beginning of spectators returning to sporting events but last week a rise in case rates across the country meant the cancellation of the planned pilot schemes at over the weekend allowing reduced capacity at cricket and racing events.
That development is a concern, but it is to be hoped that in another couple of months things will have calmed down more and football will be able to welcome supporters back nationwide. How many will be allowed into the Keepmoat Stadium remains to be seen, but if away fans are not allowed in (as would surely be sensible) then it may well be possible to get up to 5000 fans in to watch Rovers games, thanks to the modern, spacious facilities in each corner of the ground.
Getting the core of the fanbase back in and behind the players will surely make a big difference, as evidenced by the fact home advantage all but evaporated during the Premier League’s restart in front of swathes of empty seats. It will be down to individual choice whether we feel the measures in place make it safe enough to return, but surely we can all agree that sitting back in our seats before the end of the year would be a huge boost both personally and for the club.